The Med at Orchard Central, Almost Ready For Business

At the beginning of November my wife and I went to Orchard Road to look at the Christmas decorations.  While we were there we walked through Orchard Central.  A lot of the good decorations are inside the malls after all!  While we were exploring, we noticed that the very bottom level of Orchard Central was still closed off.  It was still under construction.  The decor looked fascinating though, so I took some pictures. (Scroll to the bottom of that post to see them).

Well, it turns out that as of this past weekend (at least) it’s open for people to go down and look around.  There’s still nothing open down there, but it was neat to see what they’ve already done with the place.  In keeping with the rest of the mall’s appearance, the decor and style that’s gone into the basement level is impressive.
The whole floor will be called “The Med” and it’s going to be a Mediterranean style eating area.  So, I’m assuming there’ll be a lot of Italian food.  I’m hoping it won’t be that bland though.  I’m hoping they’ll be bold and have restaurants serving Greek, Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes, among others.  Just going by the way looks, I have a feeling the prices will be a bit steep.  Let’s hope it’s worth it!  I’m looking forward to trying the restaurants out once they’re open.
Speaking of the class of people the area will cater to, I laughed when I saw the sign down there showing the concept picture of the finished area.  It was packed with Caucasian people.  Do they think no locals will eat or shop there?  Is it only to cater to tourists?  Here’s an image of the part of the sign I’m talking about:
And a few photos of the area:
Even the bathrooms are well-appointed.
These last three photos are of a mural painted on the wall directly across from the escalators.  It’ll be the first thing you see when you enter the level, assuming you don’t use the stairs that go directly to it from street level.  I was really impressed with it.  The colors are very vivid and attractive.  It’s not a sticker or a poster either.  It was actually painted on.
Hopefully in about a month or so the restaurants will open their doors to customers, but for now it’s still worth it just to go down and have a look at the level of work and attention to detail that’s been put into creating a Mediterranean atmosphere in subterranean Singapore.

How To Chope a Table in Singapore

This applies mostly to tables at hawkers, since you’re seated as usual in a “sit-down” restaurant by a host.

In a hawker center (take that to mean food court and kopitiam as well) there are a lot of people trying to eat and there usually aren’t enough tables to go around.  In Singapore, it’s not uncommon to get your food, turn around, and then realize there’s no where to sit, especially at high traffic times during lunch and dinner hours.  You might stand around for quite a few minutes looking for a spot for yourself and whoever might be with you.  That can be really frustrating and sometimes you wind up eating with strangers, which doesn’t seem to faze locals, but was uncomfortable for me at first.  In food courts in the US you eat at your own table with your own friends and family and that’s it.  There aren’t any strangers buddying up next to you.  It’s awkward and unwanted and depending on who you try it with you might get whacked in the head for your trouble.

Singaporeans have a solution for their dilemma.  They call it “choping”.  Basically, it’s a way of reserving a seat in advance.  If you’re from the US, the term “dibs” is about the same.  If you chope a table, you’re calling dibs on that table, though it’s taken a bit more seriously here.  By the way, in Singapore “Dibs” are ice cream bon bon things.

I call dibs on these Dibs.

The way it’s typically done is by leaving a travel-sized packet of tissue on the table.  If you’re wondering why people would all have tissue on them (other than women, who have everything under the sun in their bags), it turns out that at hawker centers it’s incredibly rare to be provided with a napkin to go along with your meal.  The only place I know of that does it is a Western-style hawker stall called Amigos in Pasir Ris.  So, if you’re a local and you’re going to the hawker you have tissue with you.  You deposit this tissue onto the table to claim it as yours and then you go get your food.  This practice ties in with Singapore being safe because in a lot of places if you left your tissue on the table (and it was obviously not used) it would disappear before you got back.

I’ve seen some posts on the internet about Singaporeans having a fit because foreigners don’t respect their “chope”.  Luckily, most of them are smart enough to realize that choping is a local custom and the foreigners more than likely just didn’t know what the tissue was doing there, or thought it was tissue provided by the hawker.  I recall sitting down at a table that had a packet of tissue on it once.  I even pocketed the tissue.  I guess some one ate their lunch in brooding silence that day.  It wasn’t until I’d been in Singapore for about a year that I learned about choping.

Nowadays I think the practice is starting to fade out and is being replaced with a more familiar way of claiming a table.  Someone from the group simply sits at the table and claims it while other people go get their food (and hopefully that person’s food as well).  But, if you find yourself standing, looking out over a huge crowd of seated people, remember what the tissue on the table means!